MPs Call for Overhaul of Employment & Support Allowance Assessments

A committee of MPs has called for an overhaul of the UK’s disability employment-and-support-allowanceassessment system, as controversial and inaccurate tests continue to be a source of misery for claimants.

The group said the assessment system which determines who is eligible for employment and support allowance (ESA)  is “crude”, “simplistic”, and failing to fulfill its intended purpose, as it spoke to The Guardian on Wednesday.

A report filed by the committee states:

[quote]The flaws in the existing ESA system are so grave that simply ‘rebranding’ the Work Capability Assessment by taking on a new provider will not solve the problems: a fundamental redesign of the ESA end-to-end process is required.”[/quote]

ESA is a form of benefit offered to those are cannot work full time hours or at all due to an illness, injury or disability. It is paid weekly and requires claimants to participate in assessment tests, which determine how much help they need and how much they will be paid.

For the first 13 weeks after making a claim, claimants receive ESA at the ‘assessment rate’ and then, if they are eligible, they will receive a set rate of ESA based on which eligibility group they are placed in. Some ESA claimants may also be eligible for work-related support, which is designed to help them improve their skills and achieve work goals.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) recently ditched the services of Atos, the company responsible for the department’s Work Capability Assessment program (WCA). The company had generated thousands of complaints and a bubble of controversy over the quality of its work.

The commons work and pensions committee said the test used to determine ESA eligibility is “frequently inaccurate”, with many claimants reporting it to be a highly “stressful and anxiety provoking experience”.

However, committee chair Anne Begg urges that simply putting a new WCA provider in place will not solve the underlying problems of the ESA system.

She says:

[quote]We are calling for a number of changes which can be made to improve ESA in the short term, while also recommending a longer-term, fundamental redesign of the whole process.”[/quote]

Short term changes proposed by the report include the DWP taking overall responsibility for the end-to-end ESA claims process, including whether a claimant needs a face-to-face assessment.

It has also suggested that the DWP ‘proactively’ seeks evidence of the impact of a claimant’s condition or disability (rather than leaving it up to the claimant themselves), as well as ‘rigorously monitoring’ service standards to ensure needs are being met.

When needs are not being met for whatever reason, Begg is calling on the DWP to take immediate action and impose penalties when necessary.